November-December 2011

Old-Time and Celtic Marches:

Bonaparte Crossing the Rhine /

Sherman’s March to the Sea /
Braes of Dunvegan / Caledonian March

By Roland Sturm

One type of tune that I haven’t covered in this column before are marches. Marches are often overlooked in favor of hoedowns/reels and jigs, but they do exist in all traditions. Since marches are not very fast, they are excellent for intermediate level sessions and yet are fun to play.

One march that got around a lot is Bonaparte Crossing the Rhine or Sherman’s March to Sea. In Europe, it seems to be known as Caledonian March. At the moment, here in Los Angeles, a variation of the tune is making the rounds as Braes of Dunvegan. There are at least 3 different sessions in town that play it regularly and it has become core repertoire of the Scottish Fiddlers of Los Angeles.

I have known the tune for many years as Bonaparte Crossing the Rhine and may have first heard it on the 1971 recording by the Fuzzy Mountain String Band. The Fuzzy Mountain String Band, together with the Hollow Rock String Band, was one of the seminal old-time string bands  during what may have been the first old-time music revival (and we are currently in the second or third). The Fiddler’s Fakebook has a transcription of the tune.

But I want to focus on the variation of the tune that is known as Braes of Dunvegan, which has a little twist in the B-part (a C-natural) that makes it interesting and I think also more appealing. The setting I transcribe below is how I learned it from Cape Breton fiddler Kimberley Fraser (see my column on Kimberley last year.


Not quite a session, a little more organized than that, but here are about 200 fiddlers playing Braes of Dunvegan, led by Kimberley Fraser

Kimberly Fraser and the Valley of the Moon Orchestra

You won’t be able to recognize the faces in the video, but that group includes some of my favorite artists in the traditional music genre. I don’t know how often you would get such a group together and this list is far from complete (just can’t remember who else was there): In the cello group, there are Natalie Haas (duo with Alasdair Fraser), Tristan Clarridge (Crooked Still, and 5-times Grand Champion of the Weiser Old-Time Fiddle Contest), Mike Block (Yo-Yo Ma’s Silk Road Ensemble, Republic of Strings); in the fiddle section are Britanny Haas (Crooked Still), Hanneke Cassel (solo artist), Ryan McKasson (Syncopaths, McKassons), Lauren Rioux (Republic of Strings), and Weiser Grand Champions Kimber Ludiker and Tashina Clarridge.

Roland Sturm is Professor of Policy Analysis at the RAND Graduate School and usually writes on health policy, not music. He is the talent coordinator of the Topanga Banjo Fiddle Contest and leads the monthly Celtic sessions at CTMS. These days he mainly plays upright bass and mandolin.


All Columns by Roland Sturm